By LANDON WOODROOF
The County General Election will be held on Aug. 2.
Each of the County’s 12 Districts has two commissioners representing it. County Commissioners serve four-year terms. Today we look at the candidates for Williamson County Commission District 7.
For 32 years now, Bert Chalfant has been serving the citizens of Williamson County’s District 7 on the County Commission.
Chalfant was first appointed to fill out the unexpired term of a departing commissioner in 1986, but he enjoyed the experience so much he decided to stick around. After winning eight elections, he is still committed to the job.
Chalfant has seen the county grow immensely since he first assumed office, and he wants to stay on “to maintain the steady continued progress of the county,” he said.
During his time on the County Commission, Chalfant has sat on every committee and chaired most of them. He remembers chairing the Property Committee when a developer first came in to pitch the idea for CoolSprings Galleria.
This go-round, Chalfant is eager to stay on the committee to track the progress of several local school projects, including the new STEM building on the Brentwood Middle School and Brentwood High School campus and the expansion of Scales Elementary School.
“I want to see this to its completion,” he said.
There is another issue close to his heart, though, and that is Williamson Medical Center.
“It seems like everyone talks about education, and that’s extremely important, and I don’t want to belittle that in any way, but another primary issue that I’ve been extremely vocal on and that I’ve really been very much interested in is the development of Williamson Medical Center,” Chalfant said. “The Williamson Medical Center is a county-owned property, a property owned by the residents of Williamson County, and I don’t want to see that change.”
He fears that “it would destroy the integrity” of the medical center to turn it into a private, for-profit enterprise.
Chalfant spent 38 years in the United States Army Reserve and had a varied professional career that included 13 years as an investigator at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority prior to his retirement.
He has been married to Betty Jane for 35 years, and he has four children, Lea, Anna-Gene, Brad and Creighton, and 13 grandchildren. He has lived in Williamson County for 36 years.
Chalfant is running as a Republican.
Sara Bowman Melamed
Sara Bowman Melamed felt moved to enter local politics after she and her family moved to Williamson County five years ago.
“I joke that we’re one of the problems here,” she said. “We came here because of the schools, so I want to be part of the solution to make sure that we maintain the quality of schools that brought us to Williamson County as well as the general quality of life we expect in this area.”
Melamed calls the quality of life in Williamson County “beyond anything I’ve experienced anywhere else I’ve lived.”
She thinks that a way to preserve that quality of life is by coming up with better ways to deal with the county’s growth.
“It seems to be unbridled,” she said. “We really need to figure out how to address it. I feel like we’ve been very reactionary, and I think we need to take a more proactive stance.”
Melamed runs her own marketing consulting business. She believes that business background gives her a valuable perspective on helping to manage the county’s spending.
“I’ve worked with multimillion dollar budgets for years and really think we need to take a good hard look at where our money is going,” she said.
In 2014, Melamed’s son started attending Williamson County Schools, a development that led Melamed to look harder at things like local school board races.
“I started paying really close attention then, attending meetings and just really understanding that local government has a huge impact on our daily life, and that to me was a really compelling reason to get involved here in Williamson County,” Melamed said.
Melamed is running as a Democrat, but she thinks that more unites Democrats and Republicans than divides them, especially at the local level.
“We all have the same values at the end of the day,” she said. “We all want to see our kids thrive in our educational system. We all want to make sure we aren’t running into massive debt.”
Melamed and her college sweetheart, Dan, will have been married 20 years this coming November. They have two sons, Zev, 9, and Tyce, 5.
Melamed is a board member of the Gordon JCC, where she chairs the youth and family services committee.
Jatin Shah has never run for political office before, but government has been on his mind for a long time and now seemed like the right moment to jump in.
“I’ve always been interested in government and how government works,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue. I’ve come to a point where my kids are somewhat more self-sufficient so this was a good time to get involved, to really take that on now.”
Shah’s kids, Ayan, 7, and Rohan, 6, are both enrolled in local public schools, and schools are at the heart of Shah’s decision to run for District 7 county commissioner.
“We definitely need to make sure that we are funding these schools properly,” he said. “I want to make sure that teachers have what they need so they don’t need to go out of pocket and that we have the facilities to educate our kids.”
He supports the county’s recent approval of an educational impact fee and also Williamson County voters’ decision in February to raise the local option sales tax, but Shah said he is perfectly open to other ideas as well to raise funds for schools.
“I’m not going to have tunnel vision and say it’s a property tax or nothing,” he said. “I think a lot of folks are worried about that around town. It may come down to that, I don’t know, but it behooves us to at least explore a couple of these areas.”
Shah and his wife, Malee, have been married for nearly 10 years. They moved to Williamson County in 2011.
Shah is an attorney with his own private practice in Williamson County. In addition to his full-time job, Shah also sits on the board of a local non-profit, Indian Community Senior Support Services.
That organization does volunteer work for elderly South Asian Americans in the area.
“We just try and reach out to them to see if they need any support, whether it’s a car ride or some groceries to be dropped off or a drive to the doctor’s office or just someone to talk to,” he explained.
Shah is running as a Democrat.
Tom Tunnicliffe has two simple reasons that he is seeking a District 7 seat on the Williamson County Commission.
“I am running for this position to first serve and give back to the county and second to help properly fund Williamson County Schools,” he said. “Those are the two that are making me do it in my head and my heart.”
Tunnicliffe said that in contrast to some people running for a seat on the County Commission, he has already taken concrete steps to help with school funding.
He did that, he said, by being a co-creator of the Fund Our Schools Facebook page, which has nearly 2,700 members at the time of writing.
That Facebook page was born in the midst of a drive to secure money for expansion projects at Brentwood Middle School and Brentwood High School. Around that time, WCS unveiled a rezoning plan that was unpopular with many Brentwood parents.
“That is when this Fund Our Schools thing got legs,” Tunnicliffe said.
As he learned more about the funding challenges facing the county, Tunnicliffe began to realize that the problem seriously affected more than just Brentwood schools.
“This isn’t just us guys, we’ve got to get beyond us,” he remembers thinking.
If he is elected to the County Commission, Tunnicliffe hopes to be able to effect funding changes countywide that could have positive impacts on schools and students.
While schools are his main issue, Tunnicliffe said he is also devoted to maintaining the quality of life that Williamson County residents enjoy.
“I want it to stay as perfect as it is,” he said. “I want my kids to be able to come back here and hopefully be able to raise a family here. I want to be able to maintain that.”
Tunnicliffe and his wife, Laura, have been married for 30 years. They have two children who attend Brentwood High School.
Tunnicliffe has lived in Williamson County for 14 years. This is his first time running for political office, but he has a history of volunteering for campaigns, most recently helping with Bobby Hullett’s successful 2016 run for the Williamson County Board of Education.
Tunnicliffe is running as a Republican.